Stopping the genocide in Darfur: Media plays a key role
It is an incomprehensible tragedy, not only because of the actual conflict but also because of the world’s lack of reaction to it.
North African Sudan has an Arab and a black African culture with hundreds of ethnic and tribal divisions.
Water is scarce here, and during the dry season, the tribes of northern black African and southern Arab farmers migrate for water. Land disputes are inevitable, and civil war broke out in 1983 following a drought.
Two rebel groups of black African farmers emerged: the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA/M), followed by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Sudanese government responded by hiring the Janjaweed (gunmen on horseback) militia, who attacked villages, looting and destroying homes and killing, raping and abducting thousands.
There are now over two million people in refugee camps, living in unsanitary conditions without enough food or water, They are still being attacked by the Janjaweed, now aided by Sudanese military aircraft. Over 70,000 people have been killed.
The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) held a conference on Nov. 1 to examine Canada’s role in the Darfur crisis. The panelists were analysts from non-government organizations, student groups, the media, government and university research centres.
The keynote speaker, Debbie Bodkin, from the Intelligence Branch of the Waterloo Police Service, was a recent participant in the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Darfur.
She described the task of gathering evidence from witnesses and victims in a chaotic environment.
“These were heartbreaking stories of rape. Women were forced to watch their male relatives murdered in front of them,” Bodkin said.
“Being there touched me forever. It’s been a year since I’ve been there and it still breaks my heart that it’s still going on.”
Major Brent Beardsley, who served with Gen. Roméo Dallaire in Rwanda, spoke about our responsibility to protect.
“There was no international will to stop [the genocide in] Rwanda. We’ve got to stop being bystanders.”
He concluded by asking if we would allow Westerners to suffer this way?
At a panel outlining the historical and political back-ground of the crisis, Colonel Denis Thompson, Director of Peacekeeping Policy at the National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, described the strategy behind our two official task forces. Canada is now the third largest contributor to aid victims of the Darfur crisis.
Another panel was on the role of the Canadian media, and why there has been so little coverage.
“Every news organization under covers Africa,” admitted Jack Nagler, senior producer of CBC Radio’s The World at Six, “It’s not racism but a reluctance to change. There is a bias for the Canadian connection. Also, with greater competition there are fewer resources.”
Andrew Phillips, editor-in-chief of The Gazette, agreed that it’s difficulty to get readers interested. Guy Taillefer, from Le Devoir, and Sylvain Desjardins, from Radio-Canada’s Dimanche Magazine, talked about the obstacles they faced trying to cover the crisis. Desjardins has just returned from Darfur.
Two authors of recent books, Eric Reeves, of Smith College (Sudan: Suffering a Long Way Off) and Gerald Caplan (Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide), discussed the urgency around Darfur.
Payam Akhavan, of the McGill Faculty of Law, talked about how to prosecute those guilty of genocide, while Carol McQueen, from the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), explained the successful strategy to prevent genocide in the Congo.
The conference ended with a panel discussion on how Canadian students can get involved.
For more on the Darfur Crisis, http://migs.concordia.ca/links/DarfurSudanLinks.html